Wednesday, October 5, 2022
Oct. 5, 2022

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Remodel of PeaceHealth’s emergency room aims to improve care in Clark County

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
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Despite the temporary relocation and extensive construction, PeaceHealth officials are confident that hospital operations will not be impacted. "We recognize the next couple of years will look different for our patients while we're under construction," said Jason Hanley, emergency department medical director.
Despite the temporary relocation and extensive construction, PeaceHealth officials are confident that hospital operations will not be impacted. "We recognize the next couple of years will look different for our patients while we're under construction," said Jason Hanley, emergency department medical director. "We are fully prepared to continue meeting the emergent health care needs of our community." (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver is expanding its emergency department.

During its two-year construction project, the hospital will temporarily relocate its patient walk-in and ambulance entrances from Mill Plain Boulevard to Fifth Street off of Northeast 87th Avenue. The entrance is scheduled to move Tuesday.

Despite the temporary relocation and extensive construction, PeaceHealth officials are confident that hospital operations will not be impacted.

“We recognize the next couple of years will look different for our patients while we’re under construction,” said Jason Hanley, emergency department medical director. “We are fully prepared to continue meeting the emergency health care needs of our community.”

On Thursday morning, construction workers, nurses and others were busy preparing the hospital’s temporary emergency department. New walls were already being constructed while others were being marked for demolition today.

A new emergency department sign will be installed at the Fifth Street entrance this morning.

New features

The emergency department, which is set to open in the summer of 2024, will be twice as large as the current facility. It will feature additional patient rooms and modern amenities.

“We want to provide better, safer rooms for our patients,” Assistant Nurse Manager Hannah Radtke said. “We actually have the ability to start blank and say, ‘How can we improve patient flow?’ ”

A new work model intended to improve patient flow, reduce wait times and increase patient satisfaction has been implemented among emergency department staff in preparation for the new space, and results have already been positive, according to Assistant Nurse Manager Sarah Boemmels.

“We started a whole new process about seven weeks ago, just so that the staff could learn it, understand it and try to work out some of those tweaks in this current space so they feel more comfortable when we move into the new space on Tuesday,” she said. “The process is working fantastic. We are using the idea basically of treating patients upfront to expedite care. We’ve cut our wait times in half in the process.”

The new process prioritizes treating patients immediately, and updated equipment, such as a new CT scanner, will allow emergency department nurses to accelerate patient care even more.

“The minute you present yourself and you tell us what you need, we can now start actions that will reduce your time here,” Boemmels said. “When the doctor finally sees you, you may already have a lot of your things done.”

A 24-bed observation unit will be added to the second floor. The space will allow more patients to receive care immediately upon arrival, eliminating hallway treatments and reducing waiting room stays.

A space for community partners will also be included on the second floor, where patients will find housing, addiction and food resources, as well as other social services.

Added ambulance, parking space

The updated emergency department will also feature additional parking and increased capacity for car traffic and ambulances. The new ambulance bays are already under construction and will be ready for use Tuesday.

“We’ve been meeting with all of our EMS chiefs from other departments that serve our community,” Boemmels said. “We’ve had several walk-throughs with them, so they’ve validated the space and done a few run-throughs and had some ambulances come and park. It was a lot of work. And the ambulances are actually being totally rerouted a different direction, but I think it’s the best way to get them in.”

The hospital currently has space for 10 ambulances. After construction, it will accommodate roughly 20.

Staff input has been essential to the project, according to Boemmels and Radtke.

“We’re engaging and collaborating with our staff in the construction process,” Boemmels said. “They see things that maybe we don’t see that could help their workflow and help our patient care, and also help with flow and processes. The staff really has developed not only what the area is going to look like but also how we’re going to use it.”

Hospital leadership hopes that improved workflow will lead to better staff retention.

“Engaging with our staff in this process allows them to give input,” Boemmels said. “We asked them, ‘What do you want your new ED to look like?’ It’s helping to keep their engagement in a tough, tough time to be an (emergency department) nurse.”

A challenging time, but an essential project

According to a recent survey conducted by the Washington State Hospital Association, Washington hospitals are facing grave financial challenges as costs driven by longer patient stays, wage increases and COVID-19 pandemic-related costs exceed revenue and state insurance reimbursement rates, and PeaceHealth Southwest is no exception, according to PeaceHealth spokeswoman Debra Carnes.

Nonetheless, PeaceHealth Southwest has been planning for years to update its emergency department. While it may be a challenging time for the hospital to take on a major construction project, it is also essential to improve patient care in Southwest Washington, where hospital beds are scarce.

“We’re part of a larger system, and that’s a positive, because there’s long-term planning investments in our communities on an ongoing basis,” Carnes said. “The timing is challenging, mostly because of supply chain issues and some other issues. But by being part of a larger system, we’re able to continue to operate on these projects to ensure that we deliver the best care for the communities that we’re in.”

Staffing is another challenge, but it’s one Boemmels and Radtke feel confident the hospital can overcome. A state-of-the-art emergency department will hopefully attract more staff, they said.

For additional information about the project, visit peacehealth.org/swEDexpansion.

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